California water restrictions keep getting tighter

The California Water Commission continues to tighten the reins, this week adopting stricter regulations that limit the amount of grass that landscapers may plant for new homes.

The tighter regulations affect new homes’ landscaping. Photo: Southern California Public RadioThe tighter regulations affect new homes’ landscaping.
Photo: Southern California Public Radio

The new rules restrict “high water use” landscape elements, including grass, pools and other water features. Originally instituted in 2009, the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance only permitted 33 percent of a residential landscape to be covered in turf.

Grass is now reduced to 25 percent for new home construction. The remainder of the landscape may use low-water plants, such as lavender and jasmine. Commercial and industrial buildings and medians are banned from having any grass.

New developments larger than 500 square feet must comply with the revised ordinance, which takes effect on Dec. 1. Existing lawns are not required to change unless they are undergoing a landscaping project larger than 2,500 square feet.

Other requirements include high-efficiency sprinklers and construction techniques that help capture rainwater in the soil.

“This is a very, very positive step forward,” Mary Brent Wehrli, president of the Desert Horticultural Society told The Desert Sun. “Being proactive is so much easier, ultimately, and more intelligent, than trying to go back to people who’ve had their lawns in Palm Springs for decades” and ask them to replace turf.

Parks, golf courses and areas irrigated with recycled water are permitted extra turf allowances with the new rules.

Local governments are expected to implement the revised ordinances or create their own, which must be at least as restrictive as the state’s, by December.

Vicki Lake, program manager for the Department of Water Resources’ Urban Water Use Efficiency Unit, says the changes will cut water use in new homes by 12,000 gallons, or about 20 percent, on average.

While the conservation of water is a concern for all Californians, Jurgen Gramckow, founder and president of Southland Sod Farms, disagrees with the idea that eliminating lawns will save substantial amounts of water.

“The beautiful green California landscape? It’s history,” Gramckow told The Orange County Register. “Nobody really appreciates the environmental benefits associated with lawns. Lawns are taken for granted.”

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